Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Red November: Inside the Secret U.S.-Soviet Submarine War

When you encounter a sentence like: "Despite the thickness of his wet suit, the cold still launched his testicles into his throat", you know that you are reading a Guy Book. Written for Guys by a Guy. W. Craig Reed has been reading too much Tom Clancy and too many Soldier of Fortune magazines. His macho posturing spoils an otherwise fascinating book on submarines and submarine warfare in the modern era.

Red November contains stories that are begging to be told by a professional historian. In Mr. Reed’s hands, they read like a poorly written thriller. The chapters are full of B movie dialogue. His foreshadowing is crude and heavy-handed. And I had to ask myself, did every story have to be foreshadowed? After the fifth or sixth "Little did he know…", I found myself muttering "Enough already! I got the idea." If this is the result after an editor went over it, I shudder to think what the original manuscript was like.

Despite the poor writing, the tales he tells are gripping. The unknown story of the four submarines that almost launched nuclear weapons ("Little did he know…" for each sub) during the Cuban missile crisis. The stories behind the sinking of various subs, both Russian and American. The possible raising of a sunken Russian sub. The diving feats at incredible depths of both subs and divers. The near misses. The collisions. This is great stuff.

If the intended audience for this book is armchair warriors, then Mr. Reed has succeeded admirably. I can’t, however, in good conscience recommend this book for the general reader. The history of submarine warfare in the latter half of the 20th century will be written again and better by military historians.

Review copy courtesy of William Morrow

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